“From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf [omer] of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:15–16)
Tonight at sunset, the traditional holiday of Lag BaOmer begins.
This special holiday is celebrated between Passover and Shavuot (Weeks/Pentecost) during the Biblically mandated observance of Counting the Omer.
The name of this one-day holiday, which was instituted by the rabbis, is connected to the act of counting the Omer, which is a unit of measure, meaning sheaves of a harvested crop.
Lag is the number 33 (since the Hebrew letters “lamud” [“l”]) and “gimmel” [“g”]) correspond to numerical values of “30” and “3.”
So, Lag BaOmer means the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer.
In other words, tonight it will be the 33rd day of this 50-day period between Passover and the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot).
Why Did the Lord Command the Omer to Be Counted?
“Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks [Shavuot] to the Lord your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you.” (Deuteronomy 16:9–10)
In a modern society that is not only disconnected from God but also its agricultural roots, the command to count the Omer may seem distant or irrelevant.
Still, it does have some outstanding lessons for Believers, especially considering that Yeshua appeared to His talmidim (disciples) after the resurrection during the counting of the Omer.
In ancient times, on the second day of Passover, the Jewish People harvested an omer of barley and brought it to the Temple as a wave offering.
The Torah commanded the Jewish people to count seven weeks from the time of this wave offering until the evening of Shavuot, which in Jewish tradition is when Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Since the days are counted between the commemoration of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt (Passover) and the commemoration of the giving of Torah (Shavuot), the Jewish People are reminded that redemption from slavery was incomplete until God gave us His guide to holiness, through the Word of God (the Torah).
Because the Temple was destroyed in AD 70, Jews can no longer bring their Omer Offering in the manner God commanded; nevertheless, these 49 days are still observed as a period of time to reflect on one’s character before this Feast of Weeks, also called Pentecost (Fiftieth).
The Number Seven and the Prophetic Significance of Counting the Omer
“For somewhere He has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘And on the seventh day God rested from all His work.’” (Hebrews 4:4)
Many of the numbers we find in the Bible have deep prophetic and spiritual significance that can be lost with a casual reading. The number seven is one of 12 numbers that are especially prominent.
In the Bible, seven represents perfection, completion, and rest. Including derivative words such as seventh and sevens, this word occurs 562 times in the Scriptures.
In its first occurrence in Genesis, we read that God created the universe in six days, but on the seventh day, His work was completed, and therefore He rested (Genesis 2:1–4).
“By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.” (Genesis 2:2–3)
The number seven is also prominent in Bible prophecy and is used frequently in the books of Daniel and Revelation. In the latter, we read of seven angels, seven eyes, seven kings, seven crowns, seven horns, seven seals, seven golden candlesticks, seven golden vials, etc.
“Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever.” (Revelation 15:7)
John’s Vision of Heaven, by Matthias Gerung, depicting the Lamb
opening the seven seals.
opening the seven seals.
Throughout the Bible, we see that the number seven represents wholeness, completion, rest, and blessing.
The counting of the Omer, then, is inescapably significant since it counts seven weeks of seven (49) — a complete, perfect cycle.
At the end of this period of seven sevens is the 50th day — an appointed Biblical day of spiritual wholeness, completion, rest, and blessing. This day is Shavuot in Hebrew, which Hellenist Jews called Pentecost, from the Greek word for fiftieth.
Like the number seven, the number 50 is also significant. It is the number of transcendence. The 50th day calls to mind the Year of Jubilee, the time when the shofar (ram’s horn) sounds, all slaves go free, and debts are canceled. But the number 50 has its historic expression in the Exodus from Egypt and the redemption process completed 50 days later. (Jewish Wisdom in the Numbers)
As with all appointed times, Counting the Omer points to the work of the Messiah.
These 50 days connect the physical redemption of Israel out of Egypt to their spiritual redemption through the giving of the Torah. Likewise, these 50 days also connect the death and resurrection of Messiah to the giving of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to Believers on Shavuot.
In Acts 2:5, we read how the Jewish People from around Israel and the world gathered in Jerusalem on Shavuot — as commanded in the Torah — to reaffirm their commitment to the covenant of Moses, including those who believed in Messiah.
While Yeshua’s talmidim (disciples) and other Believers were praying Shacharit (Morning Prayer) together at the Temple at this appointed time, the Ruach descended on them as fire — a sign of the Brit Chadashah (the New Covenant), thereby writing the Torah on Believers’ hearts.
They were immediately and supernaturally empowered to lead holy lives and proclaim the Good News of Yeshua.
(Note: While the location in verse two of Acts 2:1–5 is often translated house in English Bibles, this word is often used by the talmidim in the Brit Chadashah to refer to the Temple. This location would make sense in light of the large crowd able to assemble.)
Counting the Days Until His Return
“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
The counting of the Omer reminds us to be counting the days until Yeshua’s soon return so that we may lead lives worthy of those who have been counted redeemed.
Traditionally, the tone of the counting of the Omer is not one of joy, but of somber introspection, as people prepare themselves to receive the Torah by reflecting on how to be a better person.
To help us in this pursuit, each week of the Omer is dedicated to a spiritual quality that we aspire to attain in greater measure:
- Chesed ― Loving-kindness
- Gevurah ― Strength, discipline, and justice
- Tiferet ― Harmony and compassion
- Netzach ― Endurance
- Hod ― Humility
- Yesod ― Bonding
- Malchut ― Sovereignty and leadership
Each day of the week is also dedicated to reflecting on one particular aspect; for instance, on the second day of the first week, observant Jewish people consider the gevurah that is in chesed (the discipline that is involved in loving someone).
In this way, we focus daily on developing a better character.
False Hopes Lead to Mourning
Counting the Omer is a period of semi-mourning during which observant Jews do not celebrate weddings or cut their hair.
Scholars are not actually sure of the historical reasons for mourning during these 49 days, but the Talmud (oral law) may offer a hint. There was a plague during this time that may have killed 24,000 students of the great Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva.
The one day that is exempted from this period of semi-mourning is Lag BaOmer, which begins tonight.
All across the Land of Israel, huge bonfires represent different events for every Jewish person.
For some, they symbolize the great light of the Torah; for others, the light of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a surviving student of Rabbi Akiva, who may have died on this day; and for others, the fires represent the signal torches and riots during the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans from AD 132–136.
However, the reasons why we celebrate the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer have been obscured by time.
Some suggest the plague during Akiva’s time abated on this day.
Still, the word “plague” might be a code word for the disaster of Simon bar Kokhba’s failed rebellion against the Roman Empire in AD 132 — an attempt which Rabbi Akiva supported.
Many Jewish people at that time thought that Bar Kokhba was the promised Messiahwho would deliver the Jews from the oppression of the Romans.
With Bar Kokhba’s defeat, many were bitterly disappointed as they witnessed their Messianic expectations shattered.
Today, the Jewish People continue to wait for the Promised Messiah.
They do not realize that He has already come as Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) to save us — not from political oppression, but from the spiritual oppression of the enemy of our souls.
And when He does come in fulfillment of our eager expectation, the Jewish People will understand that it is His Second Coming — a time when all nations will recognize His authority.
“Look! The LORD is coming from His dwelling place; He comes down and treads on the heights of the earth.” (Micah 1:3)